A Portable Cosmos: Revealing the Antikythera Mechanism, Scientific Wonder of the Ancient World Illustrated Edition
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"[Jones] presents a very readable account of the Mechanism, and the consensus of what it was used for... [An] excellent 'User Manual.'" --Journal of the British Astronomical Asso ciation
"Jones has, in short, produced a superb guide to this dazzling embodiment of ancient astronomical knowledge and mechanical technology. Detailed enough that even scholars of ancient science will learn much, yet readable enough that undergraduate students will find it approachable (I myself have tested out both audiences), this book ends the long wait for a thorough, reliable, and accessible guide to the Antikythera Mechanism." --Courtney Roby, Cornell University, in Classical World
"The book is a triumph at several levels, as an account of high-grade detective work, as an exposition of ancient astronomical ideas, and as a disquisition on where those ideas fitted into the society that produced them.... This is recommended reading for anyone interested in ancient astronomy." --Geoffrey Lloyd, Journal for the History of Astronomy
"This book will be invaluable to those engaged in the study of the science of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Endnotes and references will assist individuals who wish to delve into further research. The presented black-and-white photographs and drawings are essential to understanding the work's subject matter. ... Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals." --M. Dickinson, CHOICE
"Jones' book is written in such a way that makes it profitable reading for a wide range of readers, from the specialists on the Mechanism to those who have never heard of it. It presents in detail and explains clearly and in a pleasant way the Mechanism and its context by using all the existing specialised literature: this is really the Bible of the Antikythera Mechanism. The only recommendation to the unprepared reader is to use the book with moderation. One can easily become addicted to the Antikythera Mechanism, this absolute technical marvel of Antiquity, and dedicate oneself to the endless search for its lost planetary gear trains." --Efthymios Nicolaidis, Almagest
"Jones's text, too, is precise but calm, elegant and with a certain charm. His learning is broad: here's Ptolemy, here are gear ratios, here's Cicero and Galen, Babylonians, planets, lunar months, Glauco, epicyclics and the 'Spindle of Necessity'. And it is not just the cosmos that is demonstrated, but the vast difference, and astonishing similarity, between us and our ancestors. So out of the history of science comes a sense of our humanity and the ancient desire to comprehend. God knows, it's timely, in the shrivelled cosmos we are building. We need more books like this. And probably more sponge-divers, too." --Michael Bywater, The Spectator
"A historian of science and technology, Mr. Jones played a role in this endeavor. His job was to link the complexities of the Antikythera Mechanism to what the ancient Greeks believed about the astronomy of a geocentric universe. His virtue as an author is an exhaustive knowledge of his subject, such as how Greek calendars varied from city to city and how pre-Copernican astral calculations accounted for the mystery of the planets' retrograde motion...Mr. Jones can be refreshingly candid, avoiding scholarly habits of overcaution." --John J. Miller, Wall Street Journal
"A Portable Cosmos is a fine account of everything that pertains to the Antikythera mechanism-the story of its discovery and decipherment, the scholarly debates about its date and provenance, and the meanings it would have held for an ancient viewer. The book is notable for its sweep, and the ease with which it moves back and forth among ancient literature, the phenomena of astronomy, and the mechanical details of the surviving artifact. This is a gem of a book."-James Evans, University of Puget Sound
"My major contribution to this amazing lost-and-found story occurred when I was asked to referee a paper on the remarkable Antikythera Mechanism, which had been recovered from an ancient ship wreck. I told them, 'You should really ask Alexander Jones.' They did, and the unexpected result was that Jones, an outstanding scholar and an expert in both ancient Greek and antique astronomy, was invited to join the team. Here Jones describes the long and fascinating path to decipherment in the decades since the device was found by divers in 1900." -Owen Gingerich, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
"Alexander Jones has done a huge service with A Portable Cosmos, dispelling many of the myths associated with this fascinating artifact... he has provided an engagingly written and detailed history of the Mechanism, covering the discovery itself, research undertaken to date, the ancient scientific and technological expertise underpinning the object and the cultural contexts of the Greco-Roman world in which it was made and meant to be used. Jones persuasively argues that the Mechanism was intended as an educational tool, rather than a specialist bit of kit...its intended audience may have been the ancient counterpart to those readers who will be drawn to Jones' authoritative and insightful account. A Portable Cosmos is set to become the definitive history of the Antikythera Mechanism, and will be of great value to specialists, as well as students and those interested in ancient Greco-Roman science and technology."-Liba Taub, University of Cambridge
"Alexander Jones' comprehensive look at the Antikythera mechanism and its context will suit readers interested in the mechanism or the history of science in general." - Publishers Weekly
"A Portable Cosmos is both an excellent focussed case study of an individual object and a comprehensive broader treatment of the relevant aspects of ancient science and technology. It is beautifully and thoughtfully illustrated, with numerous diagrams and photographs placed strategically throughout, not just of the mechanism but of various other relevant ancient objects such as calendar and other almanac-style parapegma inscriptions, manuscripts, astrolabes etc. I shall definitely be adding it to the syllabi of my 'Nature and the Natural World in Antiquity' and 'Ancient Technology' courses, and I recommend that other instructors do the same." - Jane Draycott, Classics for All
About the Author
Alexander Jones is Professor of the History of the Exact Sciences in Antiquity at New York University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; Illustrated edition (February 1, 2017)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 312 pages
- ISBN-10 : 019973934X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0199739349
- Item Weight : 1.39 pounds
- Dimensions : 9.2 x 1 x 6.8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #526,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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What makes the Antikythera Mechanism truly amazing are: (1) the ability of the maker to fabricate a device which modeled the solar system (with reasonable accuracy) based upon on a fundamentally flawed understanding of the solar system (i.e., the geocentric model); and (2) the level of fabrication skill that was available to the maker of this device over 2000 years ago. We like to think of meticulous mechanical fabrication, and astronomical observation, as being something that has developed over only the last 500 years or so. But the fact that the Antikythera Mechanism was fabricated over 2000 years ago, and incorporated scientific theories regarding the workings of the cosmos at that time, should give us pause to consider that perhaps our ancestors were smarter that we give them credit for. Unfortunately most of that knowledge and skill was lost in the dark ages (about 200 AD to 1500 AD). We stand where we are today by the benefit of accumulated knowledge since about 1500 AD, but we should also stand in admiration of those who went before us over 2000 years ago who were the true pioneers of science.
What is profound about this book is the warning from Ptolemy (pg. 245) that “it could be misleading to … judge that an astronomical hypothesis was false because one could not make a working model of it in the workshop.” The same applies equally today with respect to mathematical models of the universe – they are only models, and lack profound understanding of the underlying workings.
While there are other books available on the subject of the Antikythera Mechanism (and I confess that I have not read any of them), this book was sufficient for me to understand the history of the artifact itself, its mechanical features, and the historical background behind its manufacture. It is rare that I don’t end up buying at least two more books as a result of reading a first book on a topic, but in this case the current book satisfied all of my desires to learn about the Antikythera Mechanism.
As a final comment, the “Glossary” (pgs. 247-251) is very helpful in providing definition of important terms (such as “Callippic” and “station”).
Sponge divers discovered pieces of a statue in a 2nd century BC shipwreck off the island of Antikythera in the early 20th century. Although it appears that Jones did not join the research group until a century later, the Mechanism seems to have held his interest. His writing and the many photographs the story of the discovery and the determination of Mechanism’s purpose, are told. Early on the bronze statue pieces recovered seemed more valuable than the two lumps of the mechanism originally brought up. The reader is taken though the processes of chemical cleaning, preserving, and even layer imaging through radiation techniques. Through the realms of ancient history, ancient languages, astrology, astronomy, and engineering, readers are guided.
Technical details can be boring, but not in this book. Jones keeps the reader’s interest by relating facts such as of how Babylonians developed the method of using degrees to measure angles from the Zodiac and the meaning of an Eclipse to the Ancients. The knowledge and skills of all those working through the years had to be combined with imagination. Imagination because this was a like putting together a jigsaw puzzle that had most of the pieces missing. From the drawings of the location of the fragments in the assembly, we see a 3D puzzle with moving parts, none touching another.
Each of the eight chapters gives ample information, but for those wanting more, sources can be found in the endnotes and bibliography. A competent metal working hobbyist may be able to built a working replica of the shoebox sized Antikythera Mechanism from the text and drawings of gear trains provided. Alexander Jones has written an amazing book about an amazing Wonder of the Ancient World.
Top reviews from other countries
Professor Jones knows his subject well and brings in a great deal of relevant history from the era of the mechanism. The mechanism is a truly remarkable device, way beyond the understanding of most people of that time and even today the technics used to model the sun and the moon is very advanced. Had this device not been discovered in the early 1900's we would still be unaware that the Greeks produced very advanced geared mechanisms over 2000 years ago.
It explains how related knowledge of the planets at the time of the Babylonians and Greeks influenced understanding of the device.
I wish the diagrams were closer to the text that refers to them. Otherwise an excellent book.